Privacy Is All About The Benjamins - InformationWeek

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IoT
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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
1/11/2010
08:10 PM
Allen Stern
Allen Stern
Commentary
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Privacy Is All About The Benjamins

The big chatter this past weekend was, once again, about Facebook's privacy changes. Why shouldn't Facebook do what nearly every bank in America does?

The big chatter this past weekend was, once again, about Facebook's privacy changes. Why shouldn't Facebook do what nearly every bank in America does?Last month Facebook announced changes to the way privacy would be handled within the social network. Since the early days, Facebook was basically private - heck, you even needed to be a student just to get in. Little by little the network has made changes to become more "open". First they allowed anyone to register. Next they offered "vanity" names to users and brands. And now they have decided that all of your data could be opened to the world with just a single click. In fact the default is for your data to be public.

Last Friday Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was interviewed at the Crunchies award show. Marshall Kirkpatrick from ReadWriteWeb has an excellent recap of the very brief interview. Zuckerberg commented, "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."

Kirkpatrick doesn't agree and noted, "I don't buy Zuckerberg's argument that Facebook is now only reflecting the changes that society is undergoing. I think Facebook itself is a major agent of social change and by acting otherwise Zuckerberg is being arrogant and condescending." I'd love to see data points that Zuckerberg can point to about his claim.

Venture capitalist Howard Lindzon responded to both Zuckerberg and Kirkpatrick. Lindzon replied, "Equifax, Transunion, Capital One, American Express and their cousins raped our privacy and Facebook is a long overdue new competitor in a new age of what I would call 'User Controlled Privacy'."

I agree with Lindzon. Not a week goes by that some bank or other financial institution hasn't sent me a flyer in the mail that notes a change to their privacy practices. And with today's electronic banking, more of these institutions are able to get past the mailers by saying they shared the changes online. How many of us read the entire announcements which usually explain that the company will be selling our information twenty times a day to whomever will pay.

This is why I say that privacy is all about the benjamins (i.e. money). When Facebook decided to reduce privacy, it's hard for me to believe that money wasn't a factor. The banks make buckets of cash by selling our data. For nearly a decade I've said that the money is in the data.

Why shouldn't Facebook cash in and grab all the benjamins they can? We know the network won't be around forever and so they need to grab what they can now. Unlike some of Facebook's other mistakes, I doubt they will reverse course on these new privacy changes.

For the record, I believe Facebook should have remained as a private friends-only network. If money was an issue, Facebook could have offered a paid-subscription model (with added features, etc.) which would have provided just as much revenue as opening the privacy door. Last month's change makes me wonder what is going on inside the Facebook offices. It's perfectly acceptable to change and adapt over time but when your guiding policy is based around privacy, removing it makes one wonder what's up for sale next. Frankly I don't understand why anyone lists personally identifiable information in their Facebook profile especially birth date and phone number. Now you know why I am listed as a 65-year old female.

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